Why Nature Has All You Need To Live In Vitality And Joy
My heart is full after many beautiful experiences this past week: visiting with dear friends in Santa Fe, spending time with Amma and listening to her masterful teachings about love and compassion, and giving a keynote presentation about MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, at the AREDAY Summit in Snowmass, Colorado. So this week, I would like to share more about the beauty of our connection with Nature and the vitality we can receive from being in harmony with it.
We are in constant relationship with Nature, and it with us. We know that healthy relationships are based on mutual trust, listening and respect. They become dysfunctional without these essential qualities. Our collective relationship with the natural world suffers from this modern dysfunction.
One of the driving forces for my volunteer work to realize MAPS is that it creates an undisturbed space where wild animals can be wild and Nature can regain its equilibrium, without us interfering. It gives us pause so that we can learn to listen once again to Nature and regain respect for its wisdom.
The force of Nature is vast, powerful and wise beyond our human comprehension. When we forget the immensity of this force and try to contain it within our limits, both we and nature suffer.
We have harmed its balance through our acts of greed and ignorance. It is essential to humanity that Nature is permitted to be Nature, wild, fierce and free – not subjected to human will.
Nature’s vast wisdom needs the space to express its primal and symphonic rhythms, melodies and pulses on our planet. It has its own voice and directive. We must hear and honour it. We have encroached on Nature in so many ways. Yet we have so much to learn from our profound relationship with it, if we are willing to become still and open.
THE MASSIVE YOGA MASTERS
It is not so surprising that Nature would be a brilliant source of inspiration for our yoga practice. Yoga, after all, is the return to our interconnected nature. Would it not make sense that the wisdom of this practice is expressed in the world around us, to which we are interconnected? It is not by accident that so many of the yoga asanas we practice are named after animals (Fish, Butterfly, Cat, Dog, Crane, Peacock, Cow, Eagle), plants (Tree, Lotus) or natural phenomena (Mountain, Moon, Thunderbolt). In developing these asanas, the sages recognized a wisdom in nature we could embody. To me, the asanas are emblematic of states of consciousness we embody as we move through our day, such as the rooted, vital, expansive arising of the peacock pose, or the playful mobility and freedom in the cat pose. We do not need to assume that humans are the only creatures with an inkling of a greater whole – far from it. There are magnificent beings within Nature that express exquisite intelligence, understanding and balance, in my opinion, more masterfully than we do. One such creature is the whale.
I love watching videos of whales swimming. I sit in awe, sometimes welling with tears, at the absolute beauty, mastery and selflessness they express. I could watch for hours! Their massive bodies just seem to float effortlessly, perfectly held within the larger body of the ocean. Their natural full-body undulation, by which they propel themselves forward, is not just a simple flapping of the tail but a movement connected through their whole body, from base to head. There is no particular point at which you could say there is only a downward movement of the tail, or only an upward movement, or a moment where one becomes the other. In each moment, both directions of energy exist. Their movement seems to express multidimensional understanding and interconnection. Neither hurried nor recalcitrant, the whales flow within the whole, knowing their place. They embody the perfection of the now. This does not make for a languid drift, but gives the whales great propulsive force. A humpback can propel almost its entire body upward out of the ocean in an awe-inspiring breach before it simply releases to gravity in a resounding splash.
The breaching movement of whales takes my breath away. The energy is so joyous, life-affirming and vital. Scientists have many theories as to why whales breach out of the water, such as stunning their prey, asserting their dominance, or shaking off sea lice. Perhaps the breaches serve these functions. Yet, I cannot help but feel that sometimes the breaches are an expression of pure, embodied joy. When we feel a surge of gratitude or pleasure at some delightful thought or event, we may throw our arms in the air or jump for joy. Are the whales also breaching simply for the joy of being? They could be sending a message to humans, to help us remember the joy and strength of interconnection.
Look at this video by the Great Whale Conservancy of the rescue of a humpback whale. Watch how she behaves after being freed from the fishing net. This is embodied joy!
It seems to me that her display is a profound expression not just of gratitude, but of celebration of the selfless service by the people who worked tirelessly to free her from the nets, remembering their interconnection. In every breathtaking arc up out of the water and every thunderous slap of her tail on the surface, I feel her joyful testament to the magnificence of the human spirit that reawakens to its potential in service to Nature. Her dance feels like a glorious flow. As she receives the full vitality of Nature back into her body after being bound, she expresses the unbounded delight and freedom that is her nature (and ours, but many of us have forgotten).
THE FIGURE-EIGHT FLOW
The way whales move through the water, from gentle undulations to the full-on awesome force of breaches, beautifully exemplifies the figure eight, one of the more advanced energy flows I explore in YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine. If you have been following my YEM articles in Parvati Magazine, you know that I begin yoga teachings by helping students cultivate the awareness of upward and downward moving energy in their body-being. I have also shared how upward and downward moving energy interconnects us with the cosmos and the Earth in a fluid continuum that benefits our health and all of life.
The figure-eight moving energy takes this understanding to the next level. As your practice deepens, this energy flow can occur spontaneously in any asana. For example, in a downward dog, you can experience an energy release from your tailbone, through your legs, out your feet and into the ground. Simultaneously, energy can move down your spine, through your shoulders and arms, out your hands and into the ground. As a living entity with profound intelligence, Earth has the capacity to communicate with you, through you. Your release then becomes a giving and trusting energy exchange with the planet. As your energy releases into the ground, Earth energy rebounds back into you. Your downward moving energy, given to the planet, is met with the equal gift of upward moving energy from the Earth. The Earth’s upward energy nourishes and sustains you. Then you witness a glorious yet subtle dance at an energetic level with the planet. As this exchange occurs through all your contact points with the ground, your body becomes a neutral vehicle for energy flowing in waves both upward and downward, in an effortless, natural and fluid figure eight pattern. I share more on this in my upcoming YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine book – stay tuned!
THE AWARENESS THAT NEVER SLEEPS
Whales express flow and presence in another astonishing way that echoes the nature of spiritual masters. We humans can’t fall asleep while immersed in water, because we need to regulate our breathing and only inhale when we are at the surface. But whales are mammals like us, who also need to breathe and sleep, yet who spend most of their lives underwater, even while sleeping. When I learned about how whales sleep, I shook my head in amazement. They do not sleep as we do. Rather, they only sleep one half of their brain at a time, while the other half continues to regulate their breathing and other functions. As we evolve spiritually, we tend to need less sleep, as a profound state of relaxation and integration provides us with the refueling and nourishment we must otherwise get from the unconscious sleeping state. I find it poetic that the whales never truly become unconscious as we do, even as they sleep. They are always aware.
Amma, who is touring North America at this time, is known to sleep very little, if at all. A fully realized master who has dedicated her entire life to service, she may lie on a rug on the floor for a couple of hours a night, refusing the kind of comfortable bed we are used to in the West. She says that even while in this state, she is immersed in mantra, and does not sleep like we do. Many times when she is on tour, she will sit in a hall embracing people all hours of the day and night, and not leave her chair for as much as 24 hours, even for what we would consider basic necessities. Other times, her senior monks say that she has seemed to sleep, for example while traveling on a plane, but afterwards she will say things to them that prove she was fully aware of everything going on around her.
Of course, most of us could not emulate Amma in this way. Yet we can be inspired by her saintly, masterful life. It would be enough if we could embody as much of her compassion and awareness as we can. But there is a deep message in how a spiritual master rests. They are so profoundly interconnected within the whole that they don’t need to rejuvenate in the same way that most of us need. As consciousness is ever present, their awareness never stops. Amma has said many times that she is not like a battery that needs to be recharged, but is in constant union with the eternal source.
I have found it to be the case in my own life and evident in many friends on the spiritual path that the more we meditate, the more we can get by on less sleep. I love to say that the more I meditate, the more time I have. I am more aware and work with greater skill and speed, while being relaxed and present. I am by far more effective. When the mind is calm and we stay connected with the whole, we do not dissipate or block our energy, so we are able to live more efficiently.
Until we fully realize our divine nature, we must respect the limitations of our bodies, these divine vehicles we have been given. As such, healthy eating and sleeping cycles are necessary. A yogi knows that we need to remain in balance. We practice moderation, so that we do not sleep too much or too little. Ideally, we have a routine and schedule that helps to anchor our evolution. But eventually, as we continue our sincere practice, we become more like the magnificent whales. We reach the state where the light of our spiritual awareness is never extinguished, whether our eyes are open or shut.
May we learn from the spiritual masters in our world, both human and animal, and come to flow in that eternal awareness, in this very lifetime.
Thank you for reading! All my music, yoga and words are dedicated to MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. MAPS is an urgently needed global intervention to protect the polar ice that keeps our planet cool and weather stable. The ice caps ensure we have the food and water we all need to survive. Please support MAPS at Parvati.org for the sake of all life on Earth. From my heart to yours, it literally means the world.